Abujhmad is the only unsurveyed area in the country. British left it untouched and so did Independent India. It is also the headquarters of the Maoist movement today. We don’t know much on what goes on in that 4000 square kilometer area which is also home to around 40,000 Abujhmadia tribals.
Abujhmadias are called Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) by Government of India and there are special provisions for the PVTGs. Forest Rights Act which was passed in 2006 says PVTGs can get Habitat Right for the entire region they need for their habitation. There are around 75 PVTGs in India.
The Forest Rights Act also says because PVTGs mostly are very backward and often uneducated Government should take pro-active role in applying for Habitat Rights of PVTGs. In last 13 years we have only one example of Habitat Right being given to a PVTG when a gentleman called Naresh Biswas took up the case of Baigas, another PVTG to a sympathetic district Collector in Dindori in Madhya Pradesh few years ago.
A fairly big number of Abujhmadias have joined the Maoists from last many years. When you meet them they say they are fighting to save their forest and dignity, Jal jungle, jameen and Izzat. They do not understand much of Maoism and Communism and it was told to them by Maoist leaders they are fighting for their forest rights.
Abujhmadia is a dialect of Gondi. Forest Rights Act (FRA) has not been translated in Gondi yet though according to census of 2011 1.2 crore Gonds live in the country. Gonds are not the biggest tribal group. The biggest group Bhils also do not have FRA translated in Bhili. All India Radio, which is the only communication tool which has some reach in these areas does not broadcast any news bulletin in these languages.
Some Abujhmadias have now got together with the New Peace Process in Central India and are trying to fill a self made form to apply for their Habitat Right. In 13 years Government of India has not been able to create a form which can be filled for application.
Many Abujhmadias do Penda or shifting cultivation in Abujhmad. They shift to another piece of land after few years and after a rotation again come back to the same land after around 10 years. They have an active traditional system of Manjhis or headman who preside over most of their activities like imparting justice. There are separate traditional systems for cultural and religious works.
Abujhmad is the only place where the educational system of Gotul is still very active. Gotuls have strict rules and Abujhmadia boys and girls learn how to be more useful for society apart from their life skills from each other. They also learn about sex. Journalists often only talk about sex but Gotul is much more than that and also need to be understood by modern education systems.
Abujhmadias have special hunting traditions which is linked to their religion and collective decision making. So these extended forests are very much part of their habitation which they are trying to apply under FRA for Habitat Rights. Most of their medicinal needs are fulfilled by forest. As there are no police stations so is modern medical facilities. State has handed over most of the work of health, education and agriculture to Ramkrishna Mission here who does an excellent work here.
When the new peace process had its first meeting with around couple of dozen of Abujhmadias some of them were engineers, doctors and professors. Most of them were pass outs from Ramkrishna mission schools which are functioning in the region from more than 30 years. Maoists do not disturb the monks of Ramkrishna mission.
Most of the top Maoist leadership live in Abujhmad. It is their liberated zone. Earlier they did not do much violent action in this area which will attract security forces. But now Abujhmarias say most of the Maoist leaders have become old and can not even walk around. So discipline is reducing at fast pace and many Abujhmadias have been forced to leave their homes to live a life of exile in district headquarter Narayanpur. They call it Shanti Nagar and their number is increasing every month.
If state can give Habitat Right to the Abujhmadias which is their right and is written in FRA from 2006, this will send a strong signal. It will be a big confidence building measure. There is also a need to communicate the same to the Abujhmadias, most of them do not speak any language but Abujhmadia. Some of them now have access to mobile phones but like roads there are almost no mobile signal in the entire region. Bluetooth works.
Can a Google or Facebook put a balloon on top of Abujhmad and give access of internet to Abujhmadias to improve delivery of their rights? Abujhmadias are fighting to get their constitutional rights. Their old Maoist leaders may have some other ideas. Abujhmadias walk many kilometers to get their subsidized rice. Can we use drone to deliver them rice?
Habitat Right will be a good start. Abujhmad is not Punjab or Sri Lanka. It is thick forest. Abujhmad is also translated as unknown hills. A military offensive will kill many which may give rise to next phase of another violent movement. FRA was created to undo historical injustice. Here is a historic moment to deliver that.
(Writer is part of the new peace process www.thenewpeaceprocess.org)